There's a moment in "Thanks for Sharing" where a woman finds out the man she's dating is a recovering sex addict. She's upset he didn't reveal that fact immediately since she told him on their first date that she was a breast cancer survivor. He says he wasn't forthcoming because having cancer gets a person's sympathy while sex addiction is treated with disgust.
It's that view of the addiction that serves as the focus of this film from director and co-writer Stuart Blumberg. He offers a brutal — and occasionally funny — look at what it's like to live with an addiction that's treated with disdain. The story's told through the lives of one addict looking for love, one facing a family crisis and another dealing with a career disaster.
Most of the story is told through Adam (Mark Ruffalo), a successful businessman who has been "sober" for five years. It's not been easy. His battle with his urges are so tough that he can't even have a television in his room out of fear he will watch — and react — to inappropriate material. His battle has been so consuming that he's had little time for a social life.
That changes when he meets Phoebe (Gwyneth Paltrow), a woman who embraces (maybe too firmly) every day of her life as a cancer survivor. Their relationship begins to fall apart when she becomes paranoid that everything Adam is doing is giving into temptation.
Adam's sponsor, Mike (Tim Robbins), is dealing with how his addiction has divided his family, especially through the disgust he feels for his addict son (Patrick Fugit). Great power comes out of this painful relationship. Mike easily is more friend and mentor to strangers than to his own son.
Rounding out the multiple stories is Neil (Josh Gad), a young doctor attending addiction meetings by court order. Gad turns in a surprisingly strong performance, especially in scenes where he befriends a female (Alecia Moore, aka singer Pink) addict who uses sex as a way of self-punishment. They have some of the sweetest moments as each learns how to face problems with support.
Your initial reaction to a movie about sex addiction may be the same as Phoebe's, who asks, "Is that even a real thing?" Blumberg shows that it's very much a real thing. His blending of the stories is so smooth that it draws in the viewer and makes us care about the success and failures of each character.
It's a difficult challenge to start from a point of disgust and to win over an audience. But Blumberg does it. Not by not trying to make the addicts heroic. But by telling rich and powerful stories that cast a harsh light on the realities of addiction. He shows that there's never any true winners, just those who manage not to fail for another day.
"Thanks for Sharing," rated R for sexual content, language, nudity. Stars Mark Ruffalo, Gwyneth Paltrow, Tim Robbins, Josh Gad, Alecia Moore (singer Pink). Directed by Stuart Blumberg. Running time: 112 minutes. Grade: B
TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355.